Why do so many Digital Services Fail to Scale?
It stands to reason that a successful, fast-growing digital service is going to need a large, fast-growing team to continue building and supporting it, right?
Wrong. What that digital service actually needs is the optimal number of people, working in ways that maximise their productivity and allow their talent for innovation to flourish.
It’s an important distinction – but it’s one that continues to elude managers at many organisations, hampering their ability to respond to changing customer needs and market trends when it comes to digital products and services.
In my opinion, a digital success shouldn’t be the trigger for frantic recruitment efforts. If the current IT team isn’t able to efficiently meet business demand for a steady stream of new digital services and features, then throwing more people at the problem is unlikely to help the situation. In many cases, all it will do is increase costs and, potentially, introduce even more inefficiency.
At Zuhlke, an important aspect of our Digital @ Scale solution focuses on helping organisations that have already made some progress on their digital transformation journeys to build internal teams that can innovate at speed. The DevOps approaches that we help them to adopt focus on eliminating friction from the process. This is achieved when clients can assemble teams that are:
1. Small and agile – but self-contained
An efficient team brings together exactly the skills needed to build and deploy a service or feature, and to run it in production, without needing to go elsewhere for support or assistance. It does so without duplication of skills or effort, because a small group of team members represents the full stack of understanding required: desired business outcomes, software development methods, infrastructure needs, quality and testing approaches, and systems administration expertise.
2. Empowered to act
An effective team doesn’t need to go elsewhere for approval and wait for a ‘go-ahead’ before taking action. Instead, it is granted full ownership and responsibility for a digital service or feature. It builds it, it deploys it – and if a service breaks, the team fixes it.
3. Driven by metrics to deliver continual improvements
There are no ‘big bang’ releases for this team, with all the stress and effort they involve. Instead, the team focuses on regular delivery of small, incremental releases of code, based on continually testing audience responses and refining it accordingly, with a view to achieving the best possible user experience. Similarly, this team uses metrics and monitoring to stay alert to any issues and get fixes underway quickly and to meet organisational goals on deployment frequency and quality.
It often takes a significant cultural and organisational mindshift to organise staff into teams like this – but the results are impressive.
In particular, many organisations soon realise that they don’t need to throw more people at the problem of scaling digital services – a relief when the time and cost associated with recruiting scarce IT talent is taken into consideration. In fact, the skilled employees they already have on board are more than capable of rising to the challenge, when they are empowered to play to their strengths, free from frustrating delays and distractions.